Dennis Norfleet To Safety Bothers Me Comment Count

Brian December 11th, 2012 at 1:12 PM

Yesterday Jordan Kovacs casually tossed off something about helping out Dennis Norfleet—or dennisnorfleet, whichever—and other young safeties with minutiae, and then there's a clip of a 5'6" guy wearing 26 tackling someone else:

I hate this for lots of reasons.


The chance Dennis Norfleet becomes a good safety seems minimal. There's being small, and there's being Norfleet small. Bob Sanders is the go-to-comparison here and yes okay there has been one Norfleet-sized safety in the last ten years of college football who has been really good. I can think of plenty of mini-me running backs who have been somewhere between okay and great. Garrett Wolfe, Brian Calhoun, and Jacquizz Rodgers pop immediately to mind, a guy like Vincent Smith has provided Michigan value.


There would seem to be no need to make this move unless safety depth next year is just terrifying. With Gordon/Wilson the presumed starters, the very idea they'd need to move a kid like Norfleet to D says bad things about replacing Kovacs, or that neither Furman or Robinson is viable even as a backup.

Nickel corner? There's even less of a need there. Avery returns, Delonte Holowell is locked into nickel-or-nothing, and Terry Richardson is also a nickel sort. That they'd even try this seems to indicate a need in the secondary that can only be explained by attrition or inability to play.


We're really going to make this move before even trying the guy as a change of pace/third down back? He's clearly not needed to play S for the bowl game, but he may be needed to run the ball since Rawls isn't really getting it done and Norfleet—a guy who Hoke was pushing to get on the field on offense early this year—is just going to go by the wayside to not play safety? WTF?

I mean, if we're trying to win a bowl game here Norfleet has a much better chance of helping that cause on offense than the sideline watching Kovacs and Gordon play safety.


Hoke mentioned something about burning Drake Johnson's redshirt, which he probably won't actually do, but he has put it on the table:

He offered the proposal when asked about his running backs, who will take the field Jan. 1 against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl without starter Fitz Toussaint. Sophomore Thomas Rawls, redshirt freshman Justice Hayes and senior Vincent Smith are expected to be in the rotation.

That indicates Hoke would like to see true freshman Drake Johnson get some time against the Gamecocks. Johnson, who starred at nearby Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, is redshirting this year.

"Maybe," Hoke said. "We like what Drake's done to this point."

So instead of trying out the guy that Michigan thought was good enough to play on kickoffs they're thinking about burning a redshirt for a guy who only got an EMU offer before Fred Jackson swooped in.


This could mean Norfleet isn't good at running the ball to the point where it's not even worth trying him over Rawls. I find that hard to believe after watching his high school tape, but it is a hit on any expectations you may have for the kid as a runner. The nonsensical-seeming position switch is the first step on the road to obscurity.


But more likely it means he's not good at running through unblocked guys and that he might never get a shot running behind an offensive line that could get him some cracks.



Hopefully this is dismissed as a crazy bet Fred Jackson lost by Saturday.


Mr Miggle

December 11th, 2012 at 2:01 PM ^

There is no way in hell Hoke is burning Drake Johnson's redshirt for the bowl game. He only opined that it would be nice if players could play in bowl games without burning their redshirt and that Drake might play if that were the case.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:10 PM ^

Hm, let's see.  We've got a redshirt freshman in Justice Hayes, who is considered to be a third down-type back with speed to the outside and not much ability to break tackles.  And we've got true freshman Dennis Norfleet, who is considered to be a third down-type back with speed to the outside and not much ability to break tackles.

Two guys with the same general skill set in the same class.

I've got an idea: Let's keep them at the same position so one can always be blocking the other from playing time, and then they'll both graduate together and *POOF* be gone forever.

I'm not saying this is what the coaches are thinking, but there is a reason that some people were like "WTF?" when we signed Dennis Norfleet and Fred Jackson immediately said he didn't think Norfleet would ever be a feature back.

As long as the kid can still return kicks and punts while playing safety, I don't really care whether he plays offense or defense.  There are numerous guys who never made much of an impact on one side of the ball (Mel Gray, Dante Hall, Eddie Drummond, etc.) but were very valuable as returners.  It's quite possible that Norfleet could be one of those types of players.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:23 PM ^

There's a decent chance Norfleet becomes a substantially better 3rd down option than Hayes. The chances he becomes one of our two best safties is essentially zero. 

Fleet is on the team to be a return specialist. He weighs 161 lbs. To have any chance of seeing the field on defense he'd have to add so much weight it would compromise his athleticism for returns. You can't play safety in the Big Ten at 5'7" 175.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:56 PM ^

Maybe he has mad ball skillz.  Maybe Justice Hayes (who I don't remember playing defense in high school, but maybe he did) can't tackle worth a lick.

I'm not convined that Norfleet can't make an impact on defense.  Maybe he won't be the #2 safety at any point, but maybe he can be #3.  Maybe he's 5'8" or 5'9" now and packing on some weight.  There are several examples of short-ish safeties being successful (Bob Sanders, Tyrone Carter, Javier Arenas, etc.).

I don't know the answer.  All I'm saying is there are examples of success from the past, there are other options at RB in the same class, Norfleet has experience playing defense in high school, and he was mainly brought in to return kicks/punts.  Those aforementioned things make me shrug my shoulders about this, if it's indeed a thing.  It's not anything that we should be getting worked up about, in my opinion.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:11 PM ^

Just to point it out, while Norfleet has the KR job locked down fairly well, that doesn't mean he  automatically becomes the best RB ever.  It could be Hayes and Houma both have speed and are appearing as more attractive backfield options due to their ability to block, etc.  In additional we have a couple more backs coming into play via recruitment or off of redshirt.  
As for the safety thing, there are a lot of guys in the 5' 9" range that have had good careers as coverage safeties.  If Norfleet puts on an inch or two via growth spurt, he's right there and he already has the muscle mass.  
Assuming Fitx returns next year, we'll have at least 6 RBs on the rosters (perhaps 7 as we seem to want to add one more).  Plus three fullbacks.  Sooner or later guys who want PT are going to have to try out at other spots.  As Magnus mentions this could also be nothing more than a move to escape the fate of Darnell Hood.  


December 11th, 2012 at 2:12 PM ^

Could this just be for certain packages? Doesn't SC have a bunch of fast midgets? Maybe Mattison isn't convinced our current guys are quick enough to hang with them in space.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:22 PM ^

This blog entry was an April Fool's joke right?  Just searching for content to post?  I'm assuming you were.

We have no idea why Norfleet was out there.  It's PRACTICE.   Sometimes, the defense throws 12+ guys out there to make it harder on the offense. 

Maybe Furman and Robinson aren't good (which you admit.)

Maybe immediately after that play, Norfleet came off the field and they put another player back there.  

Maybe Norfleet was mimicking someone on USC's defense.

Maybe Maybe Maybe.  It's one clip, 2 seconds long.

If this was anything of significance, it wouldn't have been allowed on mgoblue for you to write about.  

I get it though, Norfleet would have been AWESOME in RR's system and now you can't fathom how he could be moved to defense, even if for Practice purposes only.

All that clip showed us was.... NOTHING.  



December 11th, 2012 at 2:16 PM ^

This is not really a direct rebuttal of Brian's post, but here are my thoughts on why this doesn't bother me:

1.  Dennis Norfleet may not be very good at running back. 

I like fleet, and I think that he has potential, based upon his speed, but being fast does not necessarily equate to being a good college running back.  Oftentimes, neither does being a good HS running back.  I think that we can all agree that our stable of RBs this past year is very week.  What does it tell us if Fleet could barely earn any carries this year, when we were desparate for a productive RB?  Perhaps he fumbles because of smaller hands.  Perhaps he has poor vision (which may be the case, as he does not appear to always make the correct move on returns).  Perhaps he goes down easily on first contact. 

Whatever the reason, the coaches who watch him day in and day out may not believe that he is a capable college RB.  Note: this is not really a "trust the coaches on everything" argument.  Sure, coaches can and should be second guessed, and often make mistakes.  But when numerous coaches - Borges, Hoke, Jackson and Mattison, to name a few, all conclude that he doesn't offer an upgrade over V. Smith or Rawls eeking out 1.5 yards, perhaps there is a reason.

2.  Norfleet may be a good RB, but he does not fit the system that the coaches desire to run.

Borges and company have stated repeatedly that we are going to a pro-style, manball attack starting next season.  They also clearly have a desire for a big, thumping Chris Perry, A-Train type of back.  This is not Fleet.  Does that mean that he cannot be successful?  No, but if he is going to only see 1-3 plays per game as a change of pace back, perhaps his skill set is better used elsewhere where he may see the field.  He is already a special teams regular contributor.

Before someone says that the coaches should adopt the scheme to the talent, keep in mind that we are talking about a 4th string RB.  You adopt your scheme to Denard or Devin.  you don't adopt your scheme just for Norfleet.



December 11th, 2012 at 2:20 PM ^

2 seconds of film and an offhand comment. Considering we had a different center playing most of spring and fall ball, this could mean next to nothing (you do try guys out at different positions to see how they'd do without intentions of moving them...that's what extra practice is for). But FREAK OUT is the default mode around here.  Sometimes I don't think football fans read this site; it's more like a gossip fueled circle like this:


December 11th, 2012 at 2:21 PM ^

Given that we knew Devin's foot and/or ankle got a little banged-up during the Ohio game, did anyone else think he looked fairly uncomfortable running at about 1:00 in the video? Here's hoping that he feels a lot better by Jan 1.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:27 PM ^

Maybe Brian, South Carolina, etc. are just being punk'd by Hoke & Co.  Seriously, when does Hoke ever give honest information about who is hurt, who's going to start, who's going to play what position, etc. until about 3 seconds before the game starts?

I have no idea what is going on, if anything is going on.  I think that is true of everyone.  If moving Norfleet to safety doesn't make sense, maybe it won't happen.  Kovacs' comments are intriguing, but I think we are jumping the gun on this a bit.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:40 PM ^

Teric Jones stunk and was a terrible recruiting judgement, but moving him to CB (from RB/WR) made zero sense.  It was a desperate move to address a need and try to find a player with speed a role on the team. It was still a dumb move and it failed spectacularly.

I hope this move does as well, because this offense is going to need playmakers and speed and Norfleet is one of the few pieces on the roster likely to provide it over the next couple years.


December 11th, 2012 at 2:44 PM ^


"We're really going to make this move before even trying the guy as a change of pace/third down back?"

Does this mean that we're not going to get to see Dennis in the I-formation on 3rd and short and try to run between the tackles??


December 11th, 2012 at 2:58 PM ^

Slot-mites aren't really a MANBALL type thing. So no, probably not going to happen.

But the question (for someone who knows more about football than me) is why? Why couldn't we integrate the dreaded bubble screen into a MANBALL offense? I could be very mistaken, but didn't we run quite a few bubbles in the later Carr era, even if half of them were DeBord putting Breaston 1-on1 with a corner and hoping he'd make a guy miss?


December 11th, 2012 at 3:23 PM ^

That's just the thing.  There's always a place for playmakers on offense, no matter what their skill set is.  A good OC adjusts the plays and calls to maximize the potential of their weapons.  A lot of MANBALL teams do this as a change of pace to their base offenses.  I think we should to.  Creativity is needed to make an offense elite.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:39 PM ^

The only thing I can think of (and by 'think of' I really mean 'really hope') is that we are so ill built at the current moment to run the base offense Borges needs, that he's just not comfortable tinkering with change-ups.  Hopefully in a few years when the OL has matured and backed up by other All-Everything candidates, we'll see Borges get more comfortable and shake things up.  But I'm also worried that we just won't see that happen as well.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:10 PM ^

I hope this means Borges and Mattison are working together on evaluating players, needs, and especially game planning.  I know the main reason Bob Stoops brought on Mike Leach as his OC when he took the job at Oklahoma was because Leach's offense was the one that gave him the biggest headache when he was DC at Florida. I would think Mattison could offer tips on what would frighten a DC planning against Michigan, and vice versa.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:16 PM ^

Being as brief as I can, u guys have to keep in mind Ohio runs a spread offense, and we need the smaller fast type db's to keep up with the skill position guys they have over there. I'm assuming recruits like Ross Douglass fits that need as well. This may be what the coaches have in mind by making this switch.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:33 PM ^

I don't know how I would have felt 4 years ago if someone would have told me our best option at Safety is a walk on.  The deck is deffinetly stacked against him at Safety, but 5' 6" does not mean hes in incapable of tackling.  I'm not sure what his vertical is but you would have to guess based off his speed that his leg muscles would allow him to jump higher than most people 4 or 5 inches taller than him.  Im 5' 6" tall and at 18 I could easily jump as high or higher than guys who were 5' 9" or 5' 10".  I also don't recall Jordan ever knocking the ball out of a recievers hands at the highest point.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:39 PM ^

I mostly agree with Brian's reasoning about why this is disappointing, but what I've seen from Norfleet hasn't been impressive to me.

I mean, he's a very small guy who accelerates quickly, but who never seems to juke anybody. If the KR is just going to run full speed ahead into people, we might as well get somebody bigger and faster back there.

I imagine that this problem would be the same if he were playing RB. If he's not big, not super fast, and not willing to use his quickness to juke folks, then he's not going to be successful.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:59 PM ^

I'll say this about Brian:

I have questioned him numerous times, even posting blog entries about how I disagree with him.  And while he's taken a shot back here or there, I have never been banned, had posts deleted, or been negged to Bolivian.  He doesn't mind "free speech" as long as there's some substance behind it and it's not unnecessarily offensive.


December 11th, 2012 at 3:49 PM ^

Man, I was really hoping Norfleet would fill the Vincent Smith plunging hopelessly into the line in short distance situations position  thats open for the first time in years

Can he do that AND play safety?


December 11th, 2012 at 5:17 PM ^

I'm not a relationship therapist so I can't really comment on 90% of the users posts in this thread, but maybe, just maybe, Norfleet (currently used on returns and jet sweeps and does not have a large offense role to prepare for, who played some DB in high school) is helping Gardner and the Offense prepare for Essssssssss Eeeeeeeeeeee Ceeeeeeeeeeeeee speed in the secondary.


December 11th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

People are getting too worked up about a possible position switch in December.  The 2013 season is nine months away.  The coaches will have 15 bowl practices and 15 spring practices to decide whether or not this move will succeed. 


December 11th, 2012 at 4:07 PM ^

I hate your opinion for the following reasons:

1) You don't see what goes on in practice or know what is discussed between the players and coaches. 

2) You have never coached or played football and since you failed at translating your text book knowledge in engineering to practical success why should your football knowledge be any different?

3) You don't know if this is permanent switch so why get so hot and bothered?